Until it’s quite hot? Red hot? White hot? Well … it all depends on the quality of your charcoal.
Charcoal is an amazing, natural product. It burns at over 1,000 degrees Celcius. It can filter out impurities to purify and disinfect. You might even argue that charcoal is the cornerstone of modern civilization, as it allowed us to move from the stone age to the bronze age. And do a few impressionist sketches on the side.
But, for now, let’s just think about cooking with charcoal. And – of course – it’s simply brilliant for that, to elevate the flavour of food to a completely different level.
But not all charcoals are created equal.
Many charcoals (especially briquettes) are packed with fillers and binders and accelerants and chemicals. And stuff that’s not wood. Not wood, not good.
And that’s why – surprise, surprise – you often feel the need to get charcoal pretty much white hot before you start cooking. To clear all that acrid smoke. You should think of charcoal as one of the ingredients of your meal. The quality of the charcoal you use is very important. As with all your ingredients, it’s something you can smell and taste in the eating.
With a pure, high-quality sustainable charcoal (like, say, Whittle & Flame), there are no additives and no impurities. No need to wait till that pesky smoke clears. There’s not really much smoke at all. And what there is, is full of delicious flavour.
So, you can just start cooking as soon as it’s hot enough. No wasted time, no wasted energy, no setting-off the smoke alarm in your neighbour’s house.
The traditional way to judge its temperature is the so-called “hand test” (unwelcome trips to A&E notwithstanding). The “guidance” for the test is to hold your outstretched palm an inch or two above the cooking grate. The length of time you can stand the heat tells you how hot it is. Hmmm …
But with a sealed charcoal oven, like a Charlie Oven, there’s no need for either guesswork or a second-degree burn. Just put the charcoal lump wood on top of the grates, add a natural firelighter, making sure there is plenty of space for air circulation. Then close the door and leave the air vents open. The thermometer will tell you exactly the heat that the oven has reached. When it gets to the temperature that’s right for the type of cooking you want, your charcoal is hot enough. Simple! Just close the bottom air vent and cook!
If you’ve made the wise choice at the start of proceedings of buying a pure, top-quality charcoal, that is.
A bit like the temperature of the Three Bears’ porridge. Just right.